Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quality Shopping

Dry Autumn days but very cold nights is the best way to describe the weather at the moment. October was exceptionally dry and it looks as though November will also be a very dry month.
We aren't complaining about the cold spell, it might kill of some of the nasties, namely slugs which ruined our potato crop this year.
We have had some exceptional sunsets which seem to coincide with frosty weather. Unfortunately the cold snap does not suit the hens, we are struggling to keep up our supply of eggs for our customers, still only a month to go to the shortest day, then spring will be on it's way.
Little work is being done in the garden, short days and hospital appointments seem to eat away time. We  even managed to miss 'Stir up Sunday', the day when Christmas puddings should be made, it was only listening to the 'Archers' that I realised that it was in fact last Sunday. If we had planned things better or paid more attention to the approaching festival we could have got all the dried fruit on our last trip to Sligo, just ten days previously, however that trip was to the Craft village at Rathcormac and then onto the Crafters Basket for more tapestry wool.

All it needs is a door and we could move in.
On that trip we did manage to see the recreated bronze age round houses which have been built at the craft village.
 It is very hard to find quality dried fruit in a small town so again we had  to go to Sligo to our favourite delicatessen.
Cosgroves is a small delicatessen which has been running for over a hundred years, if you like good food this is the place to go, it sells the most delicious olives amongst other things, most of  the olives got eaten on our way back home, (we can eat olives like some people eat sweets,)
  Cosgroves is also one of the very few places left where you can buy both seeded and seedless raisins and also currants,
Naturally dried apricots.
they also sell non- sulphured apricots. The colour of apricots that supermarkets sell is orange, due to the sulphur that is used to preserve them, we would prefer to not have added sulphur in our Xmas pudding. It's not a cheap place to shop, however good food should not be cheap, it should reflect the true cost of production. Tomorrow is set to be our stir up day, if we have time the cake will also get made.
Last week was the week for the duck harvest, we had five male ducklings hatched from a brood of eleven, we sold one of the females to a friend so we have an additional five females which we will keep for egg laying. Simon used the plucking machine again, it did a reasonable job but nowhere as good as it is for the broilers. The ducks all weighed in at five pounds give or take an ounce they all weighed the same. The freezers are now full again, and we have enough poultry to last us through until the next lot of birds are done, sometime around next May.
The winter vegetables are all doing well, our leeks are the best we have grown here
and the parsnips are also very good this year,
even the Brussels sprouts have done what they should do, nice firm heads and just the right size, possibly the veg all appreciated a cooler and damper summer than usual.
Freddy doing what cats do best.
 
  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A good investment.

We have been producing our own broiler birds since we returned here from Spain, this is mainly because it's hard to find a genuine free range Organic bird. We bought the odd bird from the Famers Market, however the people who were doing organic meat stopped supplying our local market due to ill health. We had done table birds before so decided as we had the land we would do them again. Processing the birds is always a labour so we were very pleased when we found a small processer an hour and a half drive from us. He always did a great job, at a reasonable price. Then came the bad news, he was no longer processing other peoples birds as he had enough work on his own farm and the family were missing out on quality time with dad. We didn't relish the idea of all that plucking, although Simon can pluck a bird in half an hour, it's hard on his hands due to arthritis. So I did a bit of research (Google is your friend). and came to the conclusion that a small Italian plucking machine might be the answer. There were various companies who stock this machine, at wildly varying prices., I was amazed to find that the cheapest price was in fact a smallholders supplier in Ireland, normally prices are far higher here than UK prices. I gave the company a ring and had a chat, I was assured that this machine would do what we wanted it to do with the number of birds that we produce yearly.
After dipping in 55c hot water the bird s feathers will come out easily.
This week it was put to the test, it does exactly what it's supposed to do, pluck a fully feathered bird in under a minute.

Less than one minute on all that remains are a couple of wing feathers.
Needless to say we are very pleased that it has lived up to our expectations. We have yet to test it out on ducks, which should be done this coming weekend as they will be fourteen weeks old. With ducks you have to catch them at the right time due to moults and pin feathers, either ten weeks or fourteen weeks should make for better plucking.
There is a wide range of weights with these latest birds which are supposed to be Hubbards, a slow growing strain.
Two whole birds and two as half birds.
They have ranged in weight from six and a half pounds to nine pounds three ounces.
We really  do have our doubts as to whether they were in fact Hubbards, none of our previous batches have weighed so much yet they were reared and fed exactly the same as previous batches. One of our customers wanted her birds done as half birds, probally just as well  even as half a bird it weighed over four pounds. We have put one of the larger birds aside for our Christmas bird, we will also have rib of beef , it will be a nice change from Turkey. Once again we ended up with only five birds for ourselves and then only because I have learnt to say no. Next year we are planning on doing three batches, that way we might get a decent amount for ourselves.
The dough needs to be much thinner.
We are still looking for a good cream cracker recipe,
They look the part but are not quite as we want them.
we have tried one that we found on the internet, it's OK but not what we would like, so we will continue testing recipes until we do find a good one. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Label reading.

First of the Hellebores.
We try very hard to be ethical shoppers, this means we read labels, anything the slightest bit suspect goes back on the shelf, this means we buy hardly any processed food, by processed I don't mean these suspect packs of ham or sliced anything, they are not something we would ever have bought. I am referring to baked goods, such as biscuits. We do make some biscuits but it's always handy to have a pack of digestive biscuits or cream crackers on hand. Digestive biscuits would have been my preferred choice for a cheese biscuit, also for  a cheese cake base, cream crackers again go great with cheese, however, here is our problem, both of these biscuits are now made with palm oil. Knowing how harmful the palm oil plantations are, from cleared tropical forests, with the loss of so many species which haven't even been identified yet, and the loss of land to the indigenous people, who have no say in where they get moved to, forced to live in shanty towns, their way of life gone. Many become workers in these plantations, the word worker to me means someone which is paid for his/her work and is free to leave is they so wish. Not for these workers though, they are modern slaves, and receive little if any money for their work, and certainly do not receive any compensation for losing their land. For this reason we will not buy anything that contains palm oil. I have found an alternative for cheese cake base, shortbread makes an even better base, however there is no alternative for cream crackers so we will just have to try and make them ourselves. If anyone has a good cream cracker recipe perhaps you will share it.
OK, I'll stop moaning now.
Kiwi, now pruned and planted in the soil.
The new tunnel is now home to our Kiwi vines, in the older tunnel they were kept in large pots, and although they didn't die on us they were far from happy, so they have been transplanted into the fruit bed along with the fig tree which was not happy outside, there is still room for the new peach tree when it arrives.
The end bed has been planted with broad bean seeds, the theory is that these will be in flower the same time as the peach tree, thus encouraging any pollinating insects that might be around in March, saving us the job of hand pollinating the peach tree. This bed is the one destined for the Tomatoes, so by the time we have harvested the early beans it will be time to plant the tomatoes.
The last of the summer crops have now been harvested,
Possibly the last of the tomatoes and beans.
a few late tomatoes and probally the last of the French beans,
  the Calabrese is still going strong.
Just right for a warming winter stew.
The winter veg are looking good, we have plenty of carrots which hopefully we can leave in the ground, hoping that they don't get eaten by slugs, the swedes are also looking good and we have had the first of the parsnips. The celeriac has done well for us, but apparently it doesn't stand well for the winter.
About half of the new bulbs have now been planted, a lot of what remains are dwarf variety's for the rockery. The rockery has become very overgrown and has lots of weeds, I have rather neglected it this summer and let it do it's own thing, probally not a good idea, it just makes more work in the end.
Early or late? it's certainly out of season.

And chives should not be in flower in November.
As I was surveying the rockery I was surprise to find  cowslips and  chives in bloom,
plants are well muddled with the weather. there are even some Lupines' still flowering and I spotted a Clematis flowering.
Winter Jasmine, at least this is the right time.

This little rose has been flowering for six months.
And still the Albertine flowers.
Dianthus.
Hypericum, this should be well over.
There's still plenty of colour in the garden.
2700 + stiches later/
At last I have finished the tapestry I was doing, it's taken me six weeks to complete, now I have to find some suitable material to turn it into a cushion cover. I've made start on the next project, another cushion cover but this time I'm doing it in Bargello also known as Florentine stitch, it seems to be far slower to work, but maybe as I get used to the new stitch I will get faster.
   

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Out and about in Autumn.

This afternoon there was this beautiful rainbow.
We need little excuse to take day trips out, especially if it's around the West Coast of Ireland. Simon's  sister was over from Canada so it was a good enough excuse to stop work in the garden and take some time out.
Walled remains of a domestic enclosure.
 One of the trips was to the Ceide fields in North Mayo.
Wall excavation.

Bog pine, carbon dated to 4thousand 3hundred years old.
Believed to be the oldest known field system in the world, the site covers around two hundred ha. and dates back  three thousand five hundred years. Each homestead was around two ha. comprising of small stoned enclosures.
View from the top of the Ceide fields.

The climate was around two degrees warmer than it is now, which made farming possible in such and exposed area.
One of the other trips was to beautiful Sligo,
taking in Mullaghmore 
and Classiebawn Castle, once owned by Lord Palmerston.
Raghly harbour.
Then on to Raghly harbour, which once was as important as Killebegs for fishing. We know all the places well but always manage to see something new, this time we spotted another castle,
Ard Tarmon Castle, not the best view.
Ard Tarmon castle was built in 1648 by the Gore family, it burnt down in the early eighteenth century so the moved just up the road to another of their properties, Lissadell.  Ard Tarmon  remained a burnt out shell until the 1980's when it was bought by a German family who have restored it to it's former glory. It is now luxury self catering apartments.
Things are now back to normal so work continues. The new tunnel is finished, there are eight raised beds, one I'm hoping will be for flower growing, and one is earmarked  for fruit.
Garlic is up.

Onions are shooting.
The garlic and onions that were planted little over a week ago are all showing growth, so are weeds!
Not much remains to be done in that tunnel, but the older one needs a good sort out, I have made a start with the strawberry plants, removing suckers and  this years leaves.
In a weeks time the Hubbard birds will be ready for slaughter.   We had been taking our birds to a processer who did a great job at a reasonable price, unfortunately he has decided he has quite enough work to do with his own birds. We know of another processor  just a few miles down the road from us  but he is charging far too much so we are  back to doing our own processing.
Plucking machine, hopefully it will make life a little easier.
Plucking a bird is quite  hard work, doing eighteen is very hard work so we have invested in a plucking machine and a Baby Burco for scalding the birds before plucking, hopefully this will make the work a little easier.
The  Autumn colours have been brilliant this year,
one of our beech trees has all different colours
and the Mahonia also has some great colour coming, it will soon be in flower,  there are lots of flower spikes waiting to burst out.
Freddie relaxing.